Nepenthes Rajah: The Big Carnivorous Plant that Just Wants to Eat Poop

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
May 26 2014 1:46 PM

Nepenthes Rajah: The Big Carnivorous Plant that Just Wants to Eat Poop

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Deep in the forests of Malaysian Borneo lurks a most peculiar plant. First recorded in 1859, Nepenthes rajah is the largest of the pitcher plants. These carnivorous wonders feature liquid-filled cavities that lure and trap insects.

Ants are the preferred cuisine of the Nepenthes rajah, but the plant has been known to trap much larger organisms in its urn-shaped cavity. Rats, frogs, lizards, and birds have all been found in the rajah's sticky grasp.


Rat-eating plants make for fascinating botanical fodder, but Nepenthes rajah's considerable dimensions—the largest recorded urn can hold almost a gallon of water—probably aren't meant for trapping rodents.

In 2011, a team of scientists lead by Monash University carnivorous plant expert Dr. Charles Clarke published their findings after studying interactions between tree shrews, rats, and N. rajah. The report's main discovery was that these small mammals habitually landed on the rim of the plant and fed on nectar from the lid while defecating into the urn. Nepenthes rajah was their food source and toilet rolled into one. And that suited N. rajah just fine—the rat and tree shrew poop provided the plant with valuable nitrogen.

As a result of this study, it is now thought that Nepenthes rajah may have evolved to accommodate the feeding-and-pooping behavior of the tree shrews. The distance from the front rim of the pitcher to the nectar on the lid corresponds to the length of the tree shrew's body, allowing it to dine and defecate simultaneously in comfort. It's a heart-warming example of a plant and animal living in perfect harmony.

Other peculiar plants:

View Mesilau Nature Resort in a larger map



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Honcho Says Celebs Who Keep Nude Photos in the Cloud Are “Stupid”
  News & Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
Business Insider
Oct. 2 2014 11:16 AM Some McDonald's Monopoly Properties Matter More
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?